wrist cast SLS

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is one of the most popular 3D printing technologies for rapid prototyping and industrial production. Shapeways customers consistently choose Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing to improve rapid prototyping for first-time projects, often continuing to use the same 3D printing materials and technology for end-use products too, year after year. Sought after for accuracy and strength in parts–coupled with versatility and affordability–the advantages of Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing offer companies the ability to iterate at length, for even the most rigorous project requirements.

Realizing the Power of SLS 3D Printing

An SLS 3D printer may range in size from a smaller printer at 200 mm x 250 mm x 330 mm to a much larger one at 700 mm x 380 mm x 580 mm, with a layer thickness of 100 to 120 microns. Operating as a subcategory of powder bed fusion, the Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing machine uses heat to fuse thermoplastic particles together on the print bed. Initiated as 3D printing materials like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] are spread over the build platform, the SLS process relies on a computer-controlled CO2 laser to scan each layer of materials, adhering them together until the part is complete.

SLS technology offers tremendous speed and volume for rapid prototyping 3D printing, with the ability to manufacture hundreds or even thousands of end parts at once via nesting. Shapeways engineers specialize in navigating what is often referred to as a 3D printing puzzle, or even likened to a game of Tetris. Smart packing of the many different shapes and sizes in parts for each build ensures quality and consistency, as well as reducing the height of the build platform, saving materials, and speeding up production.

Expanding Design Freedom and Accelerating Product Development 

When it comes to the originals in 3D printing, SLS was one of the first–and a testament to its power is the fact that it still remains at the top of the hierarchy in quality for 3D printing. Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman, associated with both the University of Texas at Austin and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), patented SLS technology in 1984. Like its very close predecessor, Stereolithography (SLA), SLS 3D printing was meant to serve as an advanced tool for engineers to speed up product development. 

Decades later, designers and engineers rely on Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing more than ever for rapid prototyping, propelled further by the expanded design freedom the technology provides. SLS 3D printing technology not only offers greater flexibility in design due to the ability to make complex geometries never before possible, but also because there are no requirements for supports. Without the need to create intricate support structures for parts, designers save time, are less restricted in terms of form and structure, and there is less chance for damage to finished 3D prints in post-processing.

Gaining the Competitive Edge with Rapid Prototyping

Industrial manufacturers use SLS 3D printing for rapid prototyping more than ever, finding further value when proceeding from research and development to production with the same advanced materials and technology. This is made easier as the selection of resources for rapid prototyping with Shapeways continues to grow too. 

Customers like 67 Designs iterated and 3D printed rugged end-use parts with Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] for off-roading vehicles–even as customer demands continued to grow to the point of mass production. Entrepreneurs like Noah Neibaron, owner of Tilt Hydrometer, ordered over a hundred prototypes from Shapeways during the iteration process. Again, Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] was used to 3D print end-use products, in the form of multi-colored devices monitoring fermentation in homebrewing.

With no requirements for lead times or tooling, designers or engineers can begin prototyping and uploading 3D models to Shapeways at any time. From there, they receive an instant quote, printability analysis, and customized feedback if necessary.

SLS 3D Printing Materials for Rapid Prototyping

The Shapeways rapid prototyping process allows for extended opportunities in feedback, testing, and modifications.  SLS 3D printing materials include: 

  • Nylon 11 [PA11(SLS)] – This is the most flexible nylon material for prototyping due to its much higher elongation at break, and strength. Popular applications include sports equipment, orthotics and prosthetics, and hinges, where high ductility is important. Nylon 11 [PA11(SLS)] also has higher temperature resistance and is based on renewable resources, therefore making it more environmentally friendly.

    A natural white finish is available for this material.

  • Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] – This is the most widely used 3D printed plastic due to its balanced property profile and ductility. These balanced properties, including high strength and good chemical resistance, make it a great multipurpose material suitable for a wide range of functional applications. Machines producing Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic]  have the largest build platform, allowing more substantial  parts to be printed.

Several finishes are also available:

  • Natural: This finish has a slightly rough surface and a matte finish.
  • Processed: This finish removes some material to create a smoother surface.
  • Premium: This is a smooth finish with good scratch resistance.
  • Smooth: This finish has a smooth surface and slight shine, created using a physio-chemical vapor process.

Colors: Versatile Plastic is naturally white. Shapeways also offers Black, Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. Note: Colors other than White are dyed and will wear through over time with handling.

  • Thermoplastic Urethane – (TPU) is an industry standard, offering high elongation at break–or ductility–as well as superior tensile strength, and excellent load-bearing capacity for larger parts as well as smaller mechanical devices like tubing, hoses, and seals. TPU is highly resistant to impact, weather, temperature, and chemicals too. Typical applications for prototyping and end-use parts include automotive, consumer accessories, medical devices, robotics, sports gear, and more.

TPU is available in standard, featuring a slightly rough surface with a matte finish.

  • Polypropylene –  Another 3D printing material that is highly suited for rapid prototyping, Polypropylene allows manufacturers to innovate, develop, and evaluate products visually, as well as for functionality. Polypropylene is biocompatible, offers high elongation at break, and is also resistant to moisture and chemicals. Strong mechanical properties make this 3D printing material highly suited for applications like automotive and toolmaking.

Polypropylene is available in a natural, slight translucent finish, featuring a matte surface and a light yellowish shade.

About Shapeways

Enjoy the benefits of this advanced technology and a wide range of materials from Shapeways for 3D printing your creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to 3D print over 21 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways additive manufacturing solutions, and get instant quotes here.